Assimilating European statistics on drug use and Happiness

With all this talk of drugs and its war on us, I decided to do some statistical digging to add some numbers to the stories. After all stories are far more riveting with numbers...

Living in the UK, I thought why not work with that which is local and so settled on Europe. Thankfully there were plenty of numbers for me to swim through, with the help of the EMCDDA (European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction) and Eurostat; a statistical wing for the European commission crunching numbers all year round. What numbers exactly? Numbers that through some simple manipulation can be turned to graphs which makes for some good visual learning. There are statistics for numerous markers of the economy and social climate, such as employment and life expectancy.

However the traditional measure of ‘happiness’ or ‘social advancement’ has been to measure economical success through numerous statistical measures. I managed to stumble across a ‘happy planet index’ (HPI); a statistical attempt to measure healthy well being of citizens within that country, as a suitable alternative. “By only using indicators like GDP to measure success we are not accounting for what really matters, producing happy lives now and in the future. The HPI puts current and future well-being at the heart of measurement. It frames the development of each country in the context of real environmental limits. In doing so it tells us what we instinctively know to be true – that progress is not just about wealth.” (HPI website)

The policy makers love stats; in all honesty so do I. Being a science graduate- it adds credence to a conclusion making it that much more believable.  It also allows for easier understanding of an overall picture.

So on to the graphs! For this comparison, the people of their respective countries within Europe answered questionnaires over their drug usage over the last 30 days. I decided to map that against the Happy planet index (HPI) and its contributing factors (See HPI calculations) against illicit drugs. Thereafter a line of best fit makes it easier to discern trends in the graphs. A greater HPI score equates to greater ‘happiness’ within that country

I decided to use three drugs since these were the statistical values available to me: cannabis, cocaine and ecstacy. Additionally prevalence rates could be compared according to age groups- young adult (15-34) and adults (15-64).

Each of these components is based on a separate measure:

Experienced well-being.
If you want to know how well someone’s life is going, your best bet is to ask them directly. In this year’s HPI, experienced well-being is assessed using a question called the ‘Ladder of Life’ from the Gallup World Poll. This asks respondents to imagine a ladder, where 0 represents the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life, and report the step of the ladder they feel they currently stand on.

Life expectancy.
Alongside experienced well-being, the HPI includes a universally important measure of health – life expectancy. We used life expectancy data from the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report

Ecological Footprint.
The HPI uses the Ecological Footprint promoted by the environmental charity WWF as a measure of resource consumption. It is a per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns, measured in terms of global hectares (g ha) which represent a hectare of land with average productive biocapacity

HPI against Drug use incidence rate


Health against drug incidence rate


Well being against drug incidence rate


Well according to these graphs; the younger you are the more incidences of drugs taken regardless of whether you are happy, healthy or doing well for oneself. This can coincide with the ‘recklessness’ or risk taking behaviour that an individual may generally do when young. It seems as though (through the statistics) that Spain, France, Italy and the UK consistently have high incidences of drug taking. The most interesting statistics is that these aforementioned countries all exhibit ~45 HPI, high health and well being close to 7 out of 10- yet other countries on the other end of the scales such as Finland, Norway, Sweden (Nordic countries) and Greece also show similar index scores.  Drugs must taste extra sweet in central Europe…

Additionally of the three drugs in question Cannabis has the highest incidence with countries like Spain, Italy and France being the main culprits achieving up to 14% with Young adults (15-34) and half that for adults (15-64). Cocaine comes in very moderately in the middle achieving up to 2% with Spain, the UK and Italy. Although interestingly for young adults Cyprus comes in third at 1.3% for cocaine use. Ecstacy has the lowest incidence rate with the UK, Czech republic and Spain being the largest up to 1.3% for young adults; half of that for adults. The low ecstacy rates could largely be attributed with ecstacy being a ‘party’ drug and the aforementioned countries all exhibit these cultures especially for younger individuals.

Most importantly is that no country is free from cannabis use; whilst the majority of European countries have cocaine users within the last 30 days.

In Europe cannabis and cocaine are both drugs demonstrating that the happier you are, the more you will use the drug. With its separate components of having more health and well being equates to greater use of cannabis or cocaine. Ecstacy on the other hand shows that more ‘happiness’, age and well being means less drug taking.

These findings point to the desperate need for us to start growing older, happier and healthier. Be quick lest the drug taking menace of ecstacy take over but then we will be taking cannabis and cocaine instead…

The only way out is to be as unhappy and with as poor well being as you can. And hope ecstacy will not hold your sway. Maybe then you may swerve past this drug bullet


I the writer, clarify that I write most of this piece as a jest- which parts are at the reader’s discretion, pints of cloud candy heading your way for correct answers. I feel an anxiety in placing generalised assumptions as a result of statistical analysis. I am fully aware that drug use is multi-factorial. For example personality (whether an individual is predisposed in ‘high-risk’ behaviour- naturally a fluctuating measure), lack of education to the effects of drugs, social deprivation/affluence, availability of the drug in question and the desire of the drug user to its use can all, or partially, be factors in an individual’s choice in drug taking. Each individual case is differing, availability and the price of the drug in question may factor but self-will may have a large impact on choices- after all it is our wills that determine what we take or not. The most staunchest and stubborn of individuals can starve themselves if desired, some yield easily to peer pressure others less so. This brings up another point- how can we effectively measure the value of will/determination with regards to drug taking?

I am also aware that across Europe the structure of culture, infrastructure and economy are of varying degrees not just between countries but also within regions of countries themselves. Whilst all the statistics and values are from public agencies, the statistics themselves are obtained under questionable circumstances since they are all run under governmental agencies that may influence their readings in order to bend truths to their benefit. A lack of independent statistical work means politics can modify the results seen

With regards to the happy planet index, whilst I can appreciate that wealth is a poor indicator of sustainable development and an attempt has been made to move towards a more encompassing value, the means by which these statistical values are gathered can be questioned. The ‘ladder of life’ is very much a subjective account (well being) whereby circumstance and needs may change with time- not everyone is fully aware of what is entirely good for them and their well-being. A certain amount of ego stroking may be present in their responses- some individuals are more pessimistic and others optimists; how do you mitigate for these differences since our perceptions are all very different? As the saying goes ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’


This article is part of a series. Please feel free to check my other articles

[ Part II ]

[ Part III ]